Supreme Court of the State of New York
Hon. Dianne T. Renwick, Presiding Justice
Susanna Molina Rojas, Clerk of the Court



On January 6 1896 the first session of the Appellate Division, First Department, took place at its temporary quarters 111 Fifth Avenue, the old Arnold Constable Building, at 19th Street.

Photo: James Brown Lord
James Brown Lord

For a permanent home, thJustices selected a site on the northeast corner of 25th Street and Madison Avenue, overlooking Madison Square Park, after rejecting another parcel that had been the Sixth Avenue Car Barns, located between 43rd and 44th Streets. Believing it to be more proper not to come into close contact wiyh the lower court judges whose decisions they would review, the Appellate Division Justices had ruled out the downtown Civic Center, where the other courts were situated, although some commentators noted that the Madison Square location allowed four of the seven Justices to walk to work. The land was purchased from a congressman, Henry Clay Miner, for $370,000.

Pleased with the remodeling of the interim space performed by the architect James Brown Lord, the Justices commissioned him to design the new, permanent courthouse. Born in New York in 1859, Lord's paternal grandfather was Daniel lord, founder of the law firm Lord, Day & Lord, of which his father was a member and his maternal grandfather was James Brown, founder of the investment banking firm Brown Brothers, today Brown Brothers Harriman. After graduating from Princeton, Lord entered the firm of William A. Potter, a leading church architect. Eventually, he had a practice of his own, designing many houses in Tuxcedo park and several restaurants for the Delmonico family.

Photo: Appellate Division, First Department Building

In June 1896 the Justices approved Lord's architectural plans. Unusual for any architect, in any age, Lord was not only given complete control over the construction, but even over the art and decoration. Lord conceived of the building itself as an expression of the ideals of the law, which he achieved by integrating the architectural, pictorial and sculptural aspects into one monument. As the journal Public Improvements noted when the courthouse was opened in 1900, the building was "the first attempt in the city of New York to erect a building in which the utilitarian and the artistic are so combined as to make one harmonious whole." That achievement is all the more remarkable when one considers that 16 sculptors and 10 paintersm as well as other artista and artisans, participated in the project.

Lord'd courthouse was residential in scale, in keeping with the domestic nature of the neighborhood at the time, before the erection of the imposing office buildings now surrounding it. The courthouse had three stories and a basement, and ran 150 feet on 25th Street by 49 feet 4 inches on Madison Avenue.Placing the entrance on 25th Street, rather than facinf the park, might at first seem surprising. However, the arrangement complemented the shape of the parcel, by allowing Lord to create an impressive façade and to situate the courtroom so that it was both easily accessible by the public and located on the quietest side of the building, away from trafficked Madison Avenue.

Photo: Porch of the Appellate Division, First Department Building
Architect James Brown Lord’s use of
columned porches and Statues drew on
the high classical Style and tradition of
famed Architect Andrea Palladio

Lord drew heavily upon the style of Andrew Palladio, the great 16th century architect of Vincenza, in designibg a structure of dazzling white marble, with two-story fluted Corinthian columns and repeated pilasters, arched and pointed moldings above the second story windows, a girdling entablature separating the second and third floors, and a low balustrade on the roof, crowned with statues. The interior was no less sumptuous, adorned with Sienna marble, onyx paneling, murals, stained glass and gilded coffered ceilings.

Although the Appellate Division is a body of State government, the building was to be constructed on municipal property and therefore was to be funded by the City. The City allocated $700,000, to be raises by a bond issue and repaid by the proceeds of sales of City real estate, rather than a direct appropriation through taxes. Thus, while the Justices retained the right of final approval, they were required to consult with the Commissioners of the Sinking Funf, A City agency that was to :sink: (pay off) City debts. Charles T. Wills, the lowest bidder, was chosen as the general contractor and the project was completed under budget, at $633,768, of which one-third was spent on artwork; when other decoration is included the percentage rises to one-half.

The Court took popssesion of its new home, bearing the street address 27 Madison Avenue, on January 2, 1900, althoughthe statuary was not in place until the following year. Addressing the assembled dignitaries and members of the Bar, Associate Justice George C. Barrett promised that the judges would endeavor "to supply the moral fibre which supports the edifice upon its spiritual side,: so that :this shall not be merely a majestic Court House of Law, but a Temple consecrated to Justice."

The Appellate Division, First Department, has remained at this 25th Street location since that time.

Efforts to preserve the Court’s history are ongoing. In addition, a program has been undertaken to repair and restore the landmark courthouse exterior, as well as the courtroom dome, stained glass and murals.


Photo: Rooftop Statues
Statues on the roof of the courthouse.
Photo: Wisdon Statue
Wisdom - Charles Duddarth Kelly Collection
Photo: Mural inside the Appellate Court Building
A mural inside the Appellate Court building.

Maitland Armstrong: Stained Glass of the Appellate Court

Photo: The Appellate Court Dome
The Appellate Court Dome,
created by Maitland Armstrong,
is rich in symbolism.
Photo: Maitland Armstrong
Maitland Armstrong
Photo: Scales of Justice
Scales of Justice
Photo: Lamp of Knowledge
Lamp of Knowledge

The stained glass of the Appellate Court building is one of is most impressive features. The building contains 27 leaded glass windows, 13 of which could be considered artistic windows with the remainder more simple geometric designs. The courtroom contains the impressive ceiling dome and 3 windows on both the north and south walls. The dome is composed of 16 radiating panels.

The side windows each have a transom making a total of 12 panels in the walls. There are also additional windows on the second and third floors and in the back stairwell.